Garden Guy: Winter Reading - Gardeners Doing Their Research

Monday, January 16, 2023

By Bruce Bennett

Happy New Year all, and welcome to our months-long, nationally known Rainy Season. Whether gardeners grow vegetables and herbs or perennials and flowers, November to April is part of the slow time (which does not mean No-Time). 

This is the time of the year when I can easily imagine my community’s composting colleagues to be sitting in their favorite chair or corner of a comfy couch, a hot beverage and pup or kitten close at hand, with the sounds of rain hitting the roof of the family abode with the rain running down the windows in ever-changing patterns.

Alright, just I might have an overly active and traditional imagination. But, what gardeners throughout our region are doing is dreaming about and planning the coming spring’s projects. To do this, a bit of research and ideas are needed and what better way to do that than with new reading material. So, for the first column of the New Year, let’s take a look at some publications which can inspire new plants to try or designs to implement. With so much potential in those seeds and plant starts, you want to buy from a company you can trust. How do you know which have the best seeds and other selections? By doing your research, of course!

Probably the easiest and least costly references are going to be vendor-provided seed and plant catalogs. Most will be free to $1.00 in cost. Yes, I know I can find most of this information on-line. But, then, I need to worry about spilling my hot coffee on the keyboard (and me) or having my furry friends continually getting in the way of my typing fingers. Besides, I am of the Boomer generation and prefer to have hard copies close-at-hand.

Plenty of gardeners send at least one seed order to a local or regional company and this practice offers certain benefits. For instance, locally grown seed is more likely to be suited to our Zone 7- 8 climate. 

Consequently, when it comes to seed and plant vendors catalogs, I tend to stay with the companies from my part of the world as they tend to have a better understanding of, and hybridization programs for, the Pacific Northwest. 

It probably makes sense that my ‘Go-To List’ has included companies like 
All of them have nice mixes of herbs and vegetables, some with plants and flowers and Kitazawa with lots of Asian culinary herbs and veggies. Gardeners of all skill levels enjoy trying new crops and varieties, and many of them look to mail-order seed companies to add interest to the landscape and discover new favorites.
The one downside to mail-order seeds and plants for some gardeners is the imposed shipping and handling fees. If you’re interested in saving a few dollars, think about purchasing seed packets at retail stores you already visit. These days, even box stores carry organic and heirloom seed from Burpee, Gurney, Ferry-Morse, Cook’s Garden and others, or you can look for more specialized selections at your local nurseries, garden centers and gourmet stores. 

Food co-ops and independently owned health food stores may also have displays from regional and national seed companies. Stop in or call them (from your comfy chair) to learn which brands they carry.  It’s not as good as having the actual catalog to read and for future reference, but convenience of most sorts does have its place in the gardening world.

If you would prefer to delve a bit more intensively into the subject matter of differing gardening topics, let me recommend some of the recent resources from my office bookshelves which I sometimes use when answering questions posed by readers:
  • Containers in the Garden by Claus Dalby
  • Gardening for Everyone:  Growing Vegetables and Herbs by Julia Watkins
  • Gardening in a Changing World:  Plants, People and the Climate Crisis by Darryl Moore
  • Maritime Northwest Gardening Guide by Lisa Taylor, et. al.
  • The First-Time Gardener:  Growing Vegetables by Jessica Sowards
  • The Gardener’s Gardener by Madison Cox
  • The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Guide:  How to Combine Shape, Color and Texture to Create the Garden of Your Dreams by Jenny Rose Carey
  • The Western Garden Book by Sunset Magazine
Please remember, these are books and catalogs I have enjoyed using and my list is totally subjective. If you don’t find something here that piques your interest or needs and you are within an easy drive of North Seattle, do consider visiting the University of Washington’s Elizabeth Miller Library at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture (which does not require your driving on-campus). It is an excellent repository of gardening and horticulture knowledge and with very helpful staff. Otherwise, depending on where you live, stop in at your nearest branch of one of the many public libraries around us.

If you decide you want to own a copy of a specific book, we haves many retail vendors, like Third Place Books, who will have the volume which you seek or can order it. Sky Nursery and other local garden stores have books. 

Are you going to the 2023 NW Flower and Garden Festival in February? If so, stop by the UW Bookstore booth (near the seminar rooms) for a great selection of discounted recent gardening titles and, perhaps take-in the author’s talk on the topic.  

Finally, if you have a laptop, again, without moving from that comfy chair and the three cats now sitting on it and you, it is possible to continue your research and learning by accessing blogs and videos on many different horticulture topics.  

A comfy spot to sit, a cup of coffee, pets who like being with you and new knowledge to learn; what better way to spend the dreary days of the Great Northwest Winters?  Here’s wishing you a great new year! 

Contributing columnist, Bruce Bennett, is a WSU Master Gardener, lecturer and   garden designer.  

If you have questions concerning this article, have a gardening question or two to ask concerning your home landscape, or simply want to suggest a topic for a future column, contact Bruce at  


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